The Problem with Pentagram

On Friday, I managed to get away from home for a couple of games of EDH with the gang. I unfortunately arrived in the middle of a game, but as one of the pilots left to do a pizza run, I got to take over and actually win the game that was in progress, through crazy shenanigans featuring a Mind’s Dilation and Clever Impersonator copying said Mind’s Dilation, and also casting someone else’s Rise of the Dark Realms twice. After the game finished, since we were five, we decided to play pentagram (or pentagon, for the less-satanicly inclined crowd). For those who might not’ve played it, it’s fairly simple: you sit around the table an imagine that you’re sitting in the pentagon-shape from the back of a Magic card. You win when the players opposite to you are eliminated, so if you’re sitting in the “green” position for example, you’re looking to kill the “blue” and the “black” players to win. In the format’s purest form, you all play with mono-coloured decks of the proper colour, but we play with whatever and randomize the seats. In essence, this is a faster way to play a five-man game, since only two player need to die in order to finish most games (sometimes three has to go), instead of four. It also leads to interesting situations around the table which doesn’t come up in regular free-for-all.

The dice were rolled, and the seats ended up like this, from my position:

White: Myself – Kess, Dissident Mage (decklist)
Blue: Grim Lavamancer – my Reyhan/Tana deck (decklist)
Black: “J” – Thraximundar good-stuff
Red: “M” – Ikra Shidiqi/Ishai tokens
Green: psykopatmullvad – Queen Marchesa ETB-abuse

(Yes, I re-built Mairsil into Kess. The deck went through more changes than I can count).

“Do you know what happens to a dragonspeaker when it’s struck by lightning?”

With this starting position, I partnered up with both the other contributors to this blog and I had to kill J and M to win the day. Luckily, J stumbled on mana early (especially blue mana) and was having a hard time getting into the game. He must’ve kept a pretty greedy hand, because he played a morph on turn three but then didn’t do much but equip a pair of Lighting Greaves onto them. I was having a pretty good start with a stacked hand of stuff ready to help either ally to deal damage, but not doing much myself. This almost went terribly awry early in the game when Grim Lavamancer cast Reyhan and elected to attack psykopatmullvad. Having your allies fighting each other in this format is never a good sign, but after some harsh words were thrown around, Grim Lavamancer elected to focus on “Project M” as we dubbed it.

Meanwhile, psykopatmullvad became monarch and I was happy with assisting Grim Lavamancer with clearing a path for him to attack into M, and since I didn’t threaten J particularly, Grim Lavamancer was free to focus all his attention on M. Like the red-green pro he is, he manages to topdeck Xenagod after a few turns, and all creatures he cast from then were huge threats. I managed to prove my conviction to Project M by not casting a Fact or Fiction at the end of psykopatmullvad’s turn, instead deciding to take my turn and Chain Lightning Ishai who became a 3/3 thanks to my spell, meaning she’d be too big to kill had I cast my Fact or Fiction as well.

As M was down to about a dozen life, J drew his first blue source, a Sunken Ruins, and could begin casting spells to disrupt Project M or the game in general. I had a Wasteland in play and had vocally debated using it to cut him off of black even earlier, but decided not to since it drew disapproving comments from both psykopatmullvad and Grim Lavamancer. A turn or so later, J managed to offend Grim Lavamancer by trying to save his other ally from death – and I was free to use my Wasteland and not draw any flak from Grim Lavamancer. Psykopatmullvad thought it was a douche move, and I completely agree, and I also hate getting Wasted or Stripped out of a colour. J took it like a champ, though.

Project M was successful right around the time J managed to use a Burnished Hart to get to double-blue but by then it was pretty much too late. My hand was stacked, and as psykopatmullvad had to try and start dealing with Grim Lavamancer, my 27/27 Consuming Aberration was free to go to town on J. The last points of damage were dealt by Kess herself along with the enters the battlefield trigger of Bogardan Hellkite for exactly lethal.

So, first paper game with the deck turned into a pretty solid victory. What’s wrong with that? Well, the wonky rules of the format variation meant that since J stumbled on mana and psykopatmullvad was content with establishing incremental card draw through monarch, Phyrexian Arena etc., Grim Lavamancer and I were free to gang up on M for a pretty long time, and as it happens, the decks played well together – Reyhan/Tana were free to spend all mana establishing threats, since I could provide removal for whatever M could stand in the way. And since Grim Lavamancer is an aggro player at heart, he went for the “start hitting someone, you gotta keep hitting the same someone” creed, and with psykopatmullvad not drawing (or not willing to spend, I’m not sure) enough answers to help his ally, we were victorious. It was a mini-2 vs 1 game within a larger game for quite some time. When that business was done, I was quite free to deal with J, seeing as how he was both stunted on mana for most of the game meaning his board was under-developed compared to mine, and lacking an ally to help him out.

This means that in a normal free-for-all game, if a player stumbles on mana enough to get behind on the board, it essentially only hurts him, but in this case, it hurt M as well, who was down an ally early in the game and facing a lot of damage from Grim Lavamancer.

The game was, all in all, enjoyable from my perspective, win or no win, and my deck played exactly as I wanted it to. I will spend a couple of post on it after finishing my Ojutai analysis.

All this aside, I like pentagram as an EDH variant. It does make for shorter games than five-man free-for-all, which can go on for hours depending on the decks participating. On paper, it leads to less diplomatic play since you’re provided with “allies” and “enemies” from the get-go, but in reality it leads to more diplomatic plays later in the game than might be expected. Like Kingdoms, it has its issues, but overall I like it over five-man free-for-all.

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